News at Whiteburn HQ was that something called “The Nordic Ski” had just been invented! This had to be explored and investigated!! On 18 January 201913 the Whiteburn PHAT Challenge marked a sublime era: The PHAT Epoque. 201913 was the year when the Whiteburn PHATties got Tango’d… And the year when they skinned up snowy Italian mountains in their winter woollies, towed their fine friends on a vintage sledge, hoarded Temperence stamps and swigged flaming absinthe in steaming Roman baths.
Quarter past eight was a frightfully early start for thirteen of Scotland’s finest PHAT pioneering chaps and chappettes gathering in Aosta Valley, Italy on a bracingly cold January morning. Three rather lovely lady chaperones hailing from the Viking lands and Chamonix Mont Blanc delivered the all-new touring skis, splendid 1913 packed lunches, bowls of fruit and some spiffing woolly scarves hand-sewn with Whiteburn PHAT handkerchiefs. Sly servings of “Moonshine,” the latest craze in 1913 prohibition-era beverages, were delivered in jamjars that had been hidden, in old wooden crates, from the PHAT auPHorities.
The PHAT chappies’ strapping team leader Mr Kilgour, betweeded in the latest Austrian-alpine fashion, had summonsed three intrepid high mountain guides to introduce the team of bold Scots to the world of Nordic Skiing … free-heel ski touring.
Fuelled with their Moonshine and Betony’s Boom Box, the fine PHATties were bussed to Rhemes Notre Dames in Grand Paradiso using the latest in combustion-engine transport technology – the clunky Italian-mini-bus.
After invigorating espresso cafes in a very well-appointed mountain hotel and the usual helping of PHAT Phaffing, the pioneers phinally gathered like rows of ducks/lemmings? behind the UIAGM mountain guides, Stuart Beanpole MacDonald, Johnnie Speedy Baird and Matt Youthful Spencely. With sealskins* (*not really made from seals anymore) strapped to their skis, the whole cavalcade slid their way upwards through the snowy Italian forests onto sparkling, sun-lit mountain peaks. They were closely phollowed by fine-artist Glaswegian photographer, Jennipher Wilcox, snapping at their heels with her 1913 Box Brownie and other spiPHing photographic apparatus.
Picnic lunches were quite the thing in 1913. So, stopping to rest in the sunny snowfields, the PHATties munched their way through the most phashionable of 1913 picnic specialities: paper bags of potato chips, digestive biscuits, cheese and ham sandwiches, “Petits Madeleines”, cake, fruit and boiled peppermints.
Unphortunately even the PHittest of PHATies were getting phoroughly phatigued by the pioneering ski mountaineering. It was imperative to seek respite and rePHuge before sunset. So they skied their way down from the peaks, through the trees and orienteered their way to a tiny, stony, Italian hamlet called Pellaud.
But where oh where was their Refuge?
It was the jingling rifts of tango-tunes tinkling out from an old gramophone (these days known as a “record player”) that led the tired PHATties to a snowy oasis of sledges, lemoncello, bowls of exotic fruits and a Nordic ice-queen, aided by her Polish man-friend Giovanni Pastori, back from his enforced European tour, serving chilled Prosecco and hot mulled wine. Pizza, foccacia, vintage ski movies and Italian jazz tunes warmed up the PHAT guests inside the refuge – the Chalet de Pellaud – before they were persuaded to partake in some spiphingly PHun party games… outside in the snow. Hunting for buried coconuts, dragging a giant vintage sledge around an obstacle course and racing in circles around a vintage ski-pole… all these things were found to be more diphicult than they sound, when the pressure was on!
Shortly though, it was after dark and surely time to dress for dinner. 1913 was the Belle Epoque and the original year of BLING! The ladies sparkled and floated in chiffon layers of phlowing phabrics. The gentlemen smartened up like movie stars in their dinner suits. The most maverick of the PHATties purchased rather large numbers of Temperence Stamps… each of which could be redeemed for alcoholic beverages at the Chalet Pellaud bar, not to mention some 1913 cocktail concoctions during the evening.
Dinnertime flowed with red wine and fine chat, interrupted only by the siren-esque airs of a surprise Italian jazz chanteuse – a sultry blonde bombshell dressed to impress in vibrant orange silks and golden feathers.
Despite the voluminous bellyfuls of polenta and Italian desserts, the tired pioneers were set one final PHAT Challenge – The Argentine Tango. The Tango was all the rage across Europe’s high societies of 1913. It was the first couples dance in Europe to involve improvisation… one quality our PHAT friends had in abundance, phankfully. While the baking-hot chanteuse crooned out the beats of Buenos Aires, the PHAT team’s closet Tango teacher and challenge-setter, Betony Garner, got the guys and gals on their toes. A beginners’ Tango lesson launched straight into a competition where PHATties and PHATtettes were judged on rhythm, elegance, emotion, harmony, posture and fluidity.
While each PHAT contestant gave it their all, the others boiled up in the bubbling baths and steamed in the sauna, spending, phlamboyantly, the last of their PHAT Temperence Stamps on phlaming absinthes, prepared by Lotta, the dazzling Belle Epoque mixologiste.
By the time the late night bells rang, while the carriages were waiting, the ski-tourer chaps were prised and herded from their PHAT phrivolities & put back into their outdoor woollies – for a torchlit march (or VIP sledge-ride) through the stars and moonlit mountainscapes back to the PHAT-Italian-mini-bus.
The Nordic Ice Queen and the Argentine Tango Teacher gathered in the skis, skins, ski poles and waved goodbye to the company of gallant PHATs, as the associates were shipped, singing and joking, onto the revelries in Courmayeur… But phat’s another story…